#MBL SERIES: No.4 - Eight things to know about fitness training

Updated: Jun 17

I blogged in #MyBodyLanguage series Post #3 Starting An Active Lifestyle on the importance of identifying enjoyable workouts to keep me motivated. As you know, group workouts at my gym such as Les Mills' Body Combat and Body Pump were the ones that got me hooked and helped me achieve my fitness goal until COVID-19 hit us.

My home "gym" during the COVID-19 lockdowns. I only require minimum space and it is totally unnecessary to have any equipment, with the exception of a floor mat. This picture was part of my gratitude journal when the pandemic first began in March 2020.

I haven't been able to go to the gym since March 2020 due to lockdowns in my country. So how have I been keeping up with my fitness regime when I don't have my gym classes and community to keep me motivated?


Well, I have since then rely on the internet to help me find something I can do at home, on my own and still enjoy it. It was difficult in the beginning not having the pumped up atmosphere that I used to get high on, but I eventually learned to appreciate some of the perks of home workouts I didn't think I'd come to like before.


In the process of doing so, I have accumulated quite a bit of new knowledge on the workout and training world outside of Body Combat and Body Pumps! It took me some time to try out various online workouts by different fitness YouTubers and I am now confident and comfortable enough to follow a handful of them who have helped me achieved greater fitness goals, and may I add that it costs me nothing! (No gym membership fee, buying trendy workout attire to keep up with appearance and paying for parking.)


In this post, I'll be sharing eight things I have learned about fitness training, in the hope it'll save you some time from searching on the internet like I did and to get on with it!


1. Weight/fat loss should not be your primary fitness goal


When I was 20kg heavier, I had only one goal. You guessed it right! Looking back now, I wish I had focused more on building strength, endurance and mobility. In other words, on how to make my body stronger, fitter and functional, not just thinner. I realise now that weight/fat loss should not have been my primary goal and I'll tell you why.


When your mind focuses on strength, endurance and mobility, you approach working out as a form of training - your goal becomes getting your body to function better, not thinner because being thin doesn't mean your body is functioning at its best. This will help you see and understand health and fitness in a holistic manner rather than just what's on your weighing scale and how you look in a bikini.


When you train, you'll develop a natural curiosity to know how your body functions, types of muscle groups, optimal heart rate, good proper form to make sure the right muscle is activated and to avoid injury and how to make your workout impactful, etc. Dr. Sara Solomon, Natasha Oceane and Caroline Girvan are three fitness YouTubers who practise this approach of treating fitness as a form of training.

Ohh....by the way, losing weight/fat typically becomes a by-product or outcome of these sort of training. So you see, it's actually a win-win approach.

Once you know what your fitness goals are, you'll be able to discern what types of workout will help you achieve those goals. Some examples given below:

  • STRENGTH training

These workouts are typically aimed at building muscle mass (turning fat into muscle). They tend to involve lifting heavier weights (it can also be your own body weight or any other form of resistance) with shorter repetition involving one movement; biceps/triceps curls, chest press, etc.

  • CONDITIONING training

As the term suggests, it is aimed at increasing endurance, enhancing your overall physical performance and achieving a balanced and stable physique. This means, the exercises are typically lighter in weight but with longer repetition involving different movements.

  • ENDURANCE training

This involves muscular and cardio endurance. If strength training is about how heavy you can lift, muscular endurance is about how long or far your muscle can take to perform a particular movement. This training is aimed at improving your cardiovascular health by building stronger heart and increasing lung capacity. Aerobic training is an example of endurance training and the target is for your heart, lung and body to be able to withstand "physical stress" for a long period of time.

  • MOBILITY and FLEXIBILITY training

Mobility is sometimes also referred to as flexibility, although they are quite different. The former is the ability of your joints to move through their full range of motion without pain or stiffness. While the latter is about stretching or lengthening your muscle - the pliability of the muscles that support the joints. Of course when you have flexible muscles and tendons, they allow your body to achieve greater range of motion during activities. Mobility and flexibility training are important to maintain joint and muscle health, lower the risk of injury and give you a better sense of balance.


All these training are important if you want to achieve overall fitness and be as well-rounded as possible like an athlete would, but to be honest, I find myself leaning more towards conditioning training because it has my favourite types of workout (more variety of movements to keep me interested), and it hits both strength and endurance objectives albeit with a "lighter touch". What this means is, I should not expect to build big muscle mass or withstand extremely long period of stress on my heart, lung and body, but I should still be able to "condition" my overall body function.


2. It is important to target your full body to ensure overall body function and balance

An illustration of basic muscle groups for the layperson

It is common to see people focusing on just a few parts of their bodies when they work out. This includes serious athletes or fitness aficionados. I am sure you have seen buffed guys at your gym with massive upper body but skinny little legs.


Ideally, you should try to target all parts of your body when you work out, if not only for the sole purpose of making sure you're strengthening all the muscles (big and small) in your body. When I say target all your body, I don't mean all at one time. It means making sure you are covering all parts of your body in your weekly workout routine; so maybe upper body on Monday and Wednesday and lower body on Tuesday and Friday.


Also, you'll hear a lot of fitness coaches who will tell you that you cannot spot train. This applies to when you are trying to lose the fat in one particular area and you decide to just work on that area, expecting only to see result in the said area. I am not entirely convinced of this because my favourite parts to train are my upper body and I can see they are more toned than my lower body. So it would be great if someone can explain this to me.


Here are some common anatomical terms to know (please see the illustration above):


Big muscles - glutes, quads, calves, chest, lats, abs

Small muscles - triceps, biceps and delts

Upper body – arms, chest, core and upper back (trapezius, infraspinatus, lats)

Lower body – legs, glutes, lower back

Core - upper and lower abs, obliques, and upper back

Arms - deltoids, triceps, biceps

Legs - quads, calves, hamstring, inner thighs

Glutes - maximus, medius and minimus (see image below)

3. Explore different types of training to enjoy different benefits and discover which ones spark most joy


I mentioned earlier that my favourite training is conditioning. For this, my preferred workouts have mostly been metabolic training such as high intensity interval training (HITT), Tabata, boot camps style (this one won't work when you're at home) which combines compound exercises with little rest in between in an effort to maximize calorie burn and increase metabolic rate during and after the workout. I also like it for three simple reasons:

  • It is time efficient as it can be performed as short as four minutes to get a pretty good burn;

  • It is extremely effective and impactful, given how little time it requires and you can target your whole body at one time; and

  • It is not boring because it combines different types of workouts, making it enjoyable.

Obviously if you're seriously thinking about strength training, you'll want to lift weights. Being at home, it can be challenging to do this if you don't have the equipment (dumb bells, bar bells, bench, etc.). Personally, I am weary of lifting heavy weights without proper training or someone else to "spot" me. So, I usually don't go too heavy when I focus on strength training. I'll go for a maximum of 7kg per dumb bell, and not more than 20kg for bar bell.


Training such as pilates, barre, yoga and Les Mills' Body Balance (by the way, Les Mills have made their trademarked/signature workout available online through their On Demand programme. It is not free although they provide a free trial period. I have not tried them yet. It could be a fun option and I did started out doing their workouts) are great for mobility training but they obviously provide other benefits such as strength, endurance, sculpting, relaxation, etc. Do not be deceived and think that these are "lightweight" or "pussy" workouts because they can be tough and intense. I was trained in ballet as a child and everyone knows ballet dancers are great athletes because of the amazing things they can do. I also noticed that these unassuming training target smaller muscle groups which are often neglected and hence I can feel intense weakness in certain areas of my body (e.g. gluteus medius and minimus) while doing it.

Lastly, I would suggest including other forms of activities that are just for fun to keep you excited. Some examples are calisthenics and boxing (I actually bought a heavy bag online to be able to do this at home!). They are challenging but I treat them as a fun workout without any goal in mind. I always end my workouts with some handstand practice. It has been nearly two years since I try to master a handstand but as this is a fun thing I do, I am perfectly fine taking my time.


4. Learn to customise your training to work for you, instead of the other way round


In post #3, I listed some common excuses one may have for not getting their butts off the couch, including the fear that it will change their lifestyle; i.e. they need to adapt their life to fit in their workout schedule. This is completely bullshit and a valuable lesson I have learned during the lockdown.


Thanks to the online fitness community (whom I am forever grateful for), there are an infinite number of workouts that can cater to not only your fitness level but your needs and interests. The possibilities are truly endless and I have only explored a small fraction of it!


For example, I want a quick intense full-body workout without equipment, but low impact (no jumping) because of my knees. Bam! I can easily find one like this that "hits" (pun intended) all the right spot.

As long as you know what you need, you can literally find it online when you know how to do a search based on key words such as the ones below:

  • Level of intensity or difficulty:

Beginner

Intermediate

Advanced

High intensity

Low intensity

Difficult

Easy

  • Format:

Quick

No-repeat (I love this!)

No equipment

No weights

Low impact (low impact does not equal low intensity)

No noise

Apartment-friendly

HIIT

TABATA (my absolutely favourite!)

AMRAP

EMOMS

  • Target area

Upper body

Lower body

Arms

Legs

Core

Glutes/Booty

Full body

  • Type

Dumb bell

Bar bell

Plates

Body weight

Resistance band

Compound exercise

Isometric

Plyometric

Cardio

Dance workout

Boxing

Strength

Pilates

Barre

Yoga

Stretching

Walking (yes, I've just discovered there are walking exercises you can do at home! Check out this video by Jaime Fok)

Trust me, once you master common fitness terminologies, you'll find at least one type of workout that will fit your lifestyle, that you like. And the beauty of home workout is the complete freedom and flexibility to train at any freaking time you want. You are your own mistress! Honestly, I'll never look at a gym in the same way again.

5. Your body needs fuel to burn fuel


I never used to bother eating or drinking something before I did my training, thinking that it was better to work out in a completely empty stomach. BIG MISTAKE if you only have a salad for lunch. Just as important as having rest day/s (see point below), having sufficient fuel a.k.a carbs or calories about one hour to 30 minutes before my workout contributes to increasing my performance significantly. I can actually see and feel a difference in my level of strength, endurance and form, and this makes complete sense because if you want your car to work, you need to put fuel in it, right?

Toasted sourdough bread with mashed avocado and hard boiled egg topped with homemade pickled cucumbers and a sprinkle of paparika

For me, carbs are the best source of fuel prior to my workout. So don't be afraid to eat carbs, ladies! If you have a light lunch like a salad, then you should have a more substantial pre-workout snack than a banana. Go for a doughnut, pretzel, muffin or chocolate bar! If you prefer something with less sugar or processed, have a sandwich (see picture on the right).


If you are working out in the morning, try to have a pretty heavy breakfast and not just an apple.


6. It's important to have rest days


When I got hooked with my group workout classes at my gym, I would literally attend classes at least six to seven days a week. I didn't exactly burn out but I noticed that when I inadvertently took one or two rest days in between classes, I actually performed better; I had more energy and I could do more reps, lift heavier, etc. which then made my training more enjoyable and impactful.


Taking rest day/s did not affect my weight significantly, which means I didn't need to worry about weight gain if I skip a day or two (or even a week!) of workouts. By understanding this, it goes to show that rest days are important to allow your body to recover in order to perform more efficiently. I would rather give my best three days a week than going through a mediocre performance six days a week, when the outcome seems to be in favour of the former.


Resting days can also involve doing active recovery activities such as walking, easy cycling or swimming, as it is more beneficial than complete inactivity but still not too heavy on your body. Many fitness coaches would recommend doing mobility training such as yoga or stretching as a form of active recovery. My personal preference is walking about 5km to my neighbourhood groceries for my weekly food supply or just taking every opportunity to walk when I run errands. One example is to intentionally park as far as possible from the building I am heading to and avoid using the escalator.


7. You snooze, you don't loose


I am terribly bad at this and it is by far the most difficult thing for me to do in this journey. Many fitness trainers advocate for at least seven to eight hours of sleep every night. This is the time when your body gets repaired and recharged. Not only that, your cortisol level (stress hormones) is said to increase with the reduction of sleep. High cortisol level is also said to be one of the key culprits for your inability to lose belly fat. So, snooze away!


8. Progress takes time and you'll inevitably see results when you're patient and consistent


My last but perhaps most important point. All of us naturally want to see results after working hard, and it is essential that you do see results or it would be rather meaningless otherwise. Do know that you will see progress if you are patient and above all, consistent. This means doing your training consistently for a significant period of time, as I guarantee there is no such thing as immediate results. Don't be fooled by false claims that promise six packs after one week or 10 kg of weight loss in two weeks by irresponsible YouTubers. These are typically click baits to get as many viewers as possible.


Someone once said it takes 10,000 hours of practice to master something. I don't know whether that's true but I do know that when I first started following online workouts (when I ventured out of Body Combat, Body Pump, etc. and resorted to home workout), I could not do a tricep push up with proper form, side plank with crunches, side lunges, Russian twist, crow pose, etc. but I can do them after consistent practice for at least two to three weeks and now they are easy peasy lemon squeezy. Obviously the length of time to see improvement and results will be influenced by your baseline fitness and strength. It will differ from one individual to another, but one thing that remains constant is that consistency and patience equal results.


Right, I still have 9,940 hours to practise my handstand. I better get going!


ALL THE BEST, LADIES. YOU CAN DO IT!

 

Next post: #MBL SERIES: No.5 - Ten home workouts you need to try!


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